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Tempers escalate as Mystics’ defensive clinic frustrates Wings

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The Washington Mystics are advancing to the second round of the 2017 WNBA Playoffs, thanks to their rebounding and defensive team effort.

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WASHINGTON, D.C.—After an incredibly physical first-round game, the Washington Mystics are advancing to the second round of the WNBA Playoffs for the first time since 2002.

Wednesday’s contest between the Mystics and the Dallas Wings was incredibly chippy and filled with runs, but Washington came out on top, 86-76.

The first half especially was an incredible back and forth affair. While the Mystics started out strong, Dallas was able to close out the second quarter on a 13-0 run (led by Aerial Powers with nine points) to tie the game up at 34.

So how was Washington able to separate itself? They used two of the game’s most important fundamentals in the form of rebounding and defense.

The Mystics came into Wednesday’s contest going on a tear on the boards, and in the first quarter alone had 18 rebounds to Dallas’ six. Eight of their rebounds came on the offensive end.

Washington kept a pretty consistent pace on the glass and ended the night with 52 rebounds compared to Dallas’ 42. To the Wings’ credit, they were even with Washington in the second half. But, considering Washington had such an advantage after just the first quarter, the final numbers really played into their favor.

Even more impressive is the fact that 20 of those 52 boards came on the offensive end, compared to 13 for the Wings. Their total rebound number tied the franchise record, and set the Playoff record for Washington.

Following the game, both coaches talked about how they felt rebounding essentially decided the game.

“[W]e got so many big offensive rebounds tonight and I think that’s a huge growth thing with our team,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “That’s a sign that we embraced how the game was being played.”

“I thought it was a physical game. Hard fought game between two teams that made the playoffs,” Dallas head coach Fred Williams said. “The ball just didn't bounce our way off of rebounds today. I thought it was about the boards.”

The driving force behind all those boards for the Mystics was Krystal Thomas, who has been phenomenal all year for Washington. She ended the night with a game-high 17 rebounds, setting a new franchise playoff rebounding record for the Mystics.

While rebounding was a huge factor, the Wings also struggled all night long to find any kind of offensive rhythm thanks in large part to Washington’s defense.

From the get-go, Washington did a good job of taking away Dallas’ half court offense and limiting their dribble-drives into the lane, as well as their ball screen sets.

In the second half, the Mystics were also incredibly successful at not allowing the Wings to get out and run in transition. They also continued to alter the Wings’ midrange shot attempts. Through their defensive composure, Washington ensured that Dallas never went on too big of a run.

Washington finished the night with eight blocked shots as a team and held the Wings to just 27-of-80 shooting from the field, and just two three-pointers off of 21 attempts (9.5 percent).

“A game like this is major step because we had to win a game in the playoffs to get to the next round and our team needs to [continue to] play great defense,” Thibault said.

“In general, playoff games are more physical, more things are allowed to happen, and if you can fight through that and still keep your defensive presence about you, then that’s great.

While the fundamentals were great, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman were both outstanding on offense. Both finished the night with double-doubles, as Delle Donne ended with 25 points and 11 rebounds while Meesseman had 16 points and 10 boards.

The Mystics will take on the New York Liberty at 5 p.m. on Sunday in the second-round single-elimination game.